Friday, April 29, 2011

Another day, another chance to simply notice and embrace the gifts life has wrapped for you and me in its odd way of packaging.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Be Serious!

Springtime reminds me of the flares of energy, the burn of delight and desire, that cannot last. Yet that high feeds the enduring fires of our lives, just as the quiet embers do, and responsible adulthood asks us to notice what enduring choices we might be making even while in the embrace of Springtime energy. In the enduring sense, what do you (or I) choose?

We each know very well that there are obvious, pivotal choices, the clear Ys in the road, the decisions that divide one possible path from another. Robert Frost had it exactly right, way leads into way and there is no going back.

There are also the daily, more subtle pivot points that build the life we have, and the changes we wish for, and the ones we didn't realize we were building into the future with our small, current choices.

Every day, every moment, we each walk into the unknown.

What do I learn, in my journey, from experienced outer relationships? That is, what do I learn from those relationships that exist in any moment with each of the external elements of my environment, including but not limited to all the human relationships?

What do I learn from my inner journey, my noticing, dreaming, imagining quietness? That is, what do I learn from the relationship of my felt-body-self with my Observer-met-in-meditation-self?

Adventures abound, overt and subtle, and are present, I believe, as long as life lasts. To quote Richard Rohr, "Now we can trust what seems like a free fall into absurdity."

Absurdity. Lest we should begin to take anything too seriously. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, Life is too serious to be taken seriously.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Participatory Sport

In his book The Social Animal, David Brooks creates two characters through whom he exemplifies the research he wishes to present. The Erica character comes from a background of poverty, and has the spunk and moxey to get into a charter school. This is, in part, how Brooks describes the routine at that fictional school, but a pattern that's been proven to work to bring about real change in students and to break the cycle of poverty:

"Every school day began with what they called "school-wide circle time." Every student gathered in the gym and they performed raps and chants together. They had a Respect Chant. They had a Knowledge-Is-Power call-and-response. They had a College Chant, in which they screamed out the names of prominent universities and vowed to make it to one of them. At the end of each rally, a gym teacher asked them the Questions: Why are you here? To get an education! How do you get it? Hard work! What do you do? Work hard! What do you use? Self discipline! Where are you going? College! Why? To be master of my own destiny! How are you going to get there ? Earn it! What is earned? Everything is earned!" (117)

Fascinating book. How we become who we are, how we change, how we echo each other. David Brooks, The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement. Random House, NY, 2011.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Banana Split

My large, extended family reminds me of a banana split: a riot of flavors, colors, varied ingredients.

Perhaps we take turns being mild vanilla, deeper-flavored chocolate, crushed heart-fruit strawberry. Put a wild, crazy groove of that split wide open banana at the base of the creation. Pour over sweet-tart flavored syrups to join the parts. A sprinkle of nuts, enough for all to have at least a touch of nuttiness. Swirls of rich whipped cream, and a couple or three cherries to top it all off.

Each element is unique on its own; each comes in its own container, its own skin; each has its own nature. Each kind of ice cream could be dished and come to the table, elegant in its own right. A banana is a fine and righteous treat by itself. A few nuts—even a dish full of them—are crunchy and delicious. Syrups have various roles beyond banana splits. Whipped cream... well!!! And cherries...

Yet none, alone, has the full force and celebratory power that develops when all are combined. I may be mostly boring, old, plain vanilla—or maybe I'm one of the nuts—but I'm also part of the abundant profusion of life that develops in family, in community. I'm part of the banana split.

Monday, April 25, 2011

"...[I]f I hadn't believed it, I'd have never seen it."

It is my experience that a good question is a wonderful traveling companion. A good question leads to seeing the world anew. It's amazing how each time I develop an answer to a good question, the next good question opens before me.

As we step into every next moment, always looking about, there is a lens of hope or faith (or doubt), and a different lens of possibility, and they need to interchange to make the search potentially fruitful. If all we carry along is certainty, we feed the status quo and kill the questions. Anne Lamott writes, "The opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty." That is, if you're already sure about something then you don't need faith. Or doubt. Or questions.

I am uncertain, suspicious, often critical, about so many things. I do not trust the gift horse, I want to look in its mouth. I laud the Missourian who says, "Show me." I am a doubting Thomas. But I am willing to pursue the experience of a question, watching out for possibilities. As a result, sometimes I am given the gift of some new way of seeing; a new perception opens, widens, deepens my understanding.

By the way, the title quote for this blog entry comes from an interview broadcast on March 10, 2011; Krista Tippet, host of OnBeing, interviewed astronomers Fr. George Coyne, and Br. Guy Consolmagno.

George Coyne is director emeritus of the Vatican Observatory and president of the Vatican Observatory Foundation. His books include Wayfarers in the Cosmos: The Human Quest for Meaning.

Guy Consolmagno is curator of meteorites at the Vatican Observatory. His books include Brother Astronomer: Adventures of a Vatican Scientist and The Heavens Proclaim: Astronomy and the Vatican.

During the interview, Br. Consolmagno said, "I come from an earth science background. And while there's a lot of places where we can put measures and write equations, an awful lot of it is still being able to look at a road cut and saying these layers came before those layers and I can see it. And either you see it or you don't. There's a geologist friend of mine who came back from one of these trips saying, "You know, if I hadn't believed it, I'd have never seen it." " (Italics added.)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Human decision making...

In his book The Social Animal, in the chapter "Self-Control," David Brooks writes:

"Human decision making has three basic steps. First, we perceive a situation. Second, we use the power of reason to calculate whether taking this or that action is in our long-term interest. Third we use the power of will to execute our decision." (125)

"The first step is actually the most important one. Perceiving isn't just a transparent way of taking in. It is a thinking and skillful process. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes, they are linked and basically simultaneous." (127)

"Small habits and proper etiquette reinforce certain positive ways of seeing the world. Good behavior strengthens certain networks. Aristotle was right when he observed, "we acquire virtues by first having put them into action." The folks at Alcoholics Anonymous put the sentiment more practically, with their slogan "Fake it until you make it." Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia puts it more scientifically: "One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior change often precedes changes in attitude and feelings." " (128-129)

Such research findings give me hope that I can affect the direction of change in my own experience. Hope. A fine thing on Easter morning, when the sun is briefly shining on my valley. The dogwood are in bloom.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Day of Rest

"...[E]xtremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! " (Barry Goldwater, Acceptance Speech as the 1964 Republican Presidential candidate.)

"Freedom without structure is its own slavery." (David Brooks, The Social Animal, 58.)

"Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. Nothin' ain't worth nothin' but it's free." (Janis Joplin, "Me and Bobby McGee")

Yes. Also:

"Limen is the Latin word for threshold. A “liminal space” is the crucial in-between time—when everything actually happens and yet nothing appears to be happening. It is the waiting period when the cake bakes, the movement is made, the transformation takes place." and "... hope is the certainty that things finally have a victorious meaning no matter how they turn out." (Richard Rohr, online Daily Meditations, April 23, 2011.)

Yes, it is all true, isn't it? Do you feel the shifting paradigm of social awareness, as I do? A sense of standing on a threshold. An awareness of turmoil, of extremism of all sorts, of loss and yet the need for loss in order for change to occur. I reach for complexity to embrace wholeness. Complexity contained within the encircling embrace of a single, faithful, simple life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday. The Christian day of ritual remembrance of sacrifice. Also Earth Day, the secular day of ritually remembering, noticing, the sacrifice we have been requiring of our Mother. Are we making real changes?

In his online Daily Meditations, Richard Rohr writes that sacrifice is the "deep recognition that something always has to die for something bigger to be born." He says the real requirement is to let go our "beloved ego," that false self that we hide behind, beneath, within. "The central issue at work is the human inclination to kill others, in any multitude of ways, instead of dying ourselves—to our own illusions, pretenses, narcissism, and self-defeating behaviors. Jesus dies 'for' us not in the sense of 'in place of' but 'in solidarity with.' ”

In the final chapter of The Alchemy of Illness, a chapter titled "Mythology and the Dark Heart of Healing" (and I am informed by the idea that, as Aviva Zornberg says, a myth is not a story of what never happened but a story of what happens over and over again) Kat Duff writes of various Native American mythologies, each of which requires sacrifice. She writes, "Of course, we are not always equal to the task, capable of longing, crying or singing, giving or receiving assistance; sometimes our hearts are shut tight with pain or bitterness. The continued trials and losses of chronic illness, like all adversities, strip away our margins for error and eliminate the easygoing trust, tolerance, and generosity of well-being. We get fussy, rigid, and particular about our ways and needs, beg for help while resisting intervention, complain bitterly, and take offense readily, in our wounded vulnerability. The places we cling to, hoarding rather than sharing, are often the places that must give way to the sacrifice: our pocketbooks, privacy, or pride. Doctor's visits usually take all three." (139)

I have not made clear, here, the connections I see. Perhaps, though, my reader will ponder his own understanding of sacrifice, and it's role.

Meanwhile, besides being Good Friday and Earth Day, today's Bernie's Birthday. We shall do our best to have a celebration.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Is it my own stiff, often achy, healing, dying body that makes me so sympathetic to the suffering of the natural world? How do I say, clearly show, that we are unified by our uniqueness? One in many skins? I knew the pain of that poor raccoon, yesterday, in my own flesh and bone and blood. I knew that a part of me, too, hobbled along in that suffering animal.

Kat Duff writes in The Alchemy of Illness, "In the third year of my illness, I dreamed that I went to volunteer at a local hospital and the people there sent me to work in the "dead babies department," to talk to the grief-stricken parents and make prayers for all the babies who have died. When I woke up, I made that prayer, for the part of me that left or died when I was molested as a baby, and for all babies dying, or only partially surviving, of starvation, disease, abuse, neglect, or war. Sometimes I still make that prayer. I am intrigued by the fact that my dream instructed me to pray, and to pray not only for my lost child, but for all lost children; in so doing, I feel the sacredness of my being and of all other beings simultaneously, and come to see the universality of my experience. It feels as though the thin strand of my life is woven back into the web of our world. That may be the answer to my question of how to encompass the painful contradictions and injustices of life." (132)

The thin strand of each individual life woven into the web of our world.

What color and quality of strand am I? You?

Every springtime I am astonished anew. By how fast the growth and change happens. By how restless and enervated I feel. By the harsh realities of survival. In three days the dogwood have sprung from tight bud to open blossom. Narcissus are suddenly in full bloom. I am astonished.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Raccoons and Human Mercy says, "Raccoons eat mainly plants and other animals. While in their natural habitat, they eat nuts, seeds, fruits, eggs, insects, frogs, crayfish, (and other fish) and worms.

"Racoons are omnivorous which means they can eat any kind of food that they can find. In an urban enviromnent, being omnivorous means that they find discarded food in human garbage.

"Raccoons are very intelligent animals...."

And they're cute, don't forget they're so cute, with their little masks and fluffy tails and delicate, competent hands. And they have individual personalities, as the many stories of raccoon pets tell us.

This morning, in my best Little Engine mode ("I think I can, I think I can...") I gathered up household garbage and recycling, loaded it up, and took it to the dump. On the way home I stopped at a little park by the Deer Creek Bridge and walked along a path clearly created by four wheeled all terrain vehicles.

There were rue anemone, lady's slipper, fiddleheads, violets, wild strawberry blooms, lots of vigorous-growing multi-flora roses. The air was moist and warm, almost too warm. Birds sang with their springtime urgency and abandon. The creek burbled and chatted along.

Maybe a third mile along the path I came around a bend to where a raccoon and I sighted each other. The 'coon was drinking from a largish puddle remaining from last Saturday's high water. I stopped, thinking it might run. Then I approached slowly, carefully. When I was perhaps thirty feet away, the animal turned and moved toward the edge of the path. It held it's right rear foot clear of ground, and in a few slow, stiff, limping steps showed me it's hunched, scrawny, pathetic profile. Such a very injured creature, and I had no help for it, not even the mercy of a gun.

Feed it? With what? And at this time of year, natural food is available. And where would it be if I returned, and how would it know my heart?

I know there are many coons about, they are nowhere near endangered. Yet this poor creature. Dying? Healing and recovering? Perhaps. One or the other. Aren't we all, after all. And what is the compassionate response?

Every day there is newly dumped trash along the roadside where I walk. Everywhere trash is thrown into and floats and sinks into the creek. Even in this "rural" county there is no place far from roads and cars that leave dead and injured creatures in their wake. Animals get tangled in and swallow our trash, wander onto our roads. Humans dominate.

So what effect do I have in turning away to allow that raccoon the space and time to either recover or die in peace? What is the use of this deep, deep ache inside me at some core of my being? Neither business nor government nor our Easter churches, none seems to have an effective model for deeply supporting the injured and hurting among us.

Here is the poem Garrison Keilor published on The Writer's Almanac this morning:

End of Days by Marge Piercy

Almost always with cats, the end
comes creeping over the two of you--
she stops eating, his back legs
no longer support him, she leans
to your hand and purrs but cannot
rise--sometimes a whimper of pain
although they are stoic. They see
death clearly though hooded eyes.

Then there is the long weepy
trip to the vet, the carrier no
longer necessary, the last time
in your lap. The injection is quick.
Simply they stop breathing
in your arms. You bring them
home to bury in the flower garden,
planting a bush over a deep grave.

That is how I would like to cease,
held in a lover's arms and quickly
fading to black like an old-fashioned
movie embrace. I hate the white
silent scream of hospitals, the whine
of pain like air-conditioning's hum.
I want to click the off switch.
And if I can no longer choose

I want someone who loves me
there, not a doctor with forty patients
and his morality to keep me sort
of, kind of alive or sort of undead.
Why are we more rational and kinder
to our pets than to ourselves or our
parents? Death is not the worst
thing; denying it can be.

"End of Days" by Marge Piercy, from The Hunger Moon: New and Selected Poems, 1980 - 2010. (c) Alfred A. Knopf, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

This morning along the Deer Creek path I'd wished I knew and carried some mercy.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Happiness Choices: Loving the Rain

"Happiness researchers go around asking people if their lives are happy. They've noticed that when they ask on sunny days, people are more likely to say their entire lives are happy, whereas if they ask on rainy days the wet weather changes their entire global perspective on the state of their existence. (Though if people are told to consciously reflect on the day's weather, the effect goes away.) " David Brooks, The Social Animal, Random House, 2011, 237.

"Though if people are told to consciously reflect on the day's weather, the effect goes away." That is, the effect of sadness goes away if people are told to consciously reflect on the day's weather. Or perhaps is is the effect of weather disappears, period, if one reflects. But not for me.

I happen to take joy from the experience of the natural world as I consciously reflect, as I simply notice.

I'd not, myself, discovered the above mentioned research, but I've experienced the effects described, happy in sunshine, dreary in darker days. Some things that I've noticed about finding good cheer on rainy days:

Rain is not uniform.
There are times in a rainy day when the fall becomes light to non-existent.
The smell of rain, and the sense of moist air on the skin, are possibly delicious.
The colors of the world become more subtle on rainy days, and possibly glorious.
Sounds change as moisture in the air changes, I may hear the day anew.

Wearing wet clothes depresses the spirit. Take appropriate actions to mitigate this problem. Think about it and make the arrangements ahead of time. Neither an umbrella nor a rain coat will keep feet dry.

Seems to me that learning one's own process for noticing and being happy in all weather is inextricable from the process of nurturing strength of spirit. And strength of spirit is necessary not only for sudden misfortune, but also for the ordinary, routine, grinding-on daily aches and pains and sadnesses that creep over us if we allow. I, for one, choose to notice the happiness of sunshine, and also to love the rain.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Yesterday was the day when most of the beech leaves remaining from last year let go their grip and floated away. There's been a gradual releasing for the past three weeks or so, but yesterday was the last major release. A just in time process.

Rue anemone are opening, looking like ready to eat popcorn scattered up the hill, and variations on the theme of daffodil continue to open and stand in bloom. They scent the air all around the house. Purple wind flowers, purple violets, purple hyacinth, purple vinca and many colors of primrose are all in bloom, and May apples are opening their umbrella leaves.

A couple years ago I saw a baby woodchuck trying to hide under a May apple leaf. The size of a small woman's fist, it still had it's big baby belly, and when it saw that for sure I noticed, it tried to scramble away and had trouble keeping its feet underneath, skidding and scrambling. Working hard to survive.

What about survival when the youth, strength, and ability to work hard have all faded? Or even just strength and the ability to work hard?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Not Just Gold

As I walk out in the Spring world I often remember what Robert Frost wrote:

Nothing Gold Can Stay

Nature's first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leafs a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

It's true that the early leaf is a flower, the tiny fist of bud opening to those ruffly, petal-like, flower-like leaves. They aren't only gold, though, they're also peach and apricot and yellow-orange and bronzed-rose and burgundy and cardinal red.

Such a plethora of detail becomes a complication that doesn't fit in the Frost poem, as it happens. It's how writing works. And I love this poem, how he captures the pathos under the beauty.

Nevertheless, for me it's important to notice that the very first colors the leaves show are their particular colors without chlorophyll. All the trees will go to work, putting on their uniform greens as they grow and take up their grown-up duties, but their first flower and their fall flame tell a deeper, more complex story than just gold.

So it is that we humans put on our work-a-day suits and partly hide ourselves. And the colors underneath are also interesting and worthy of notice, and it isn't just gold that counts

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Yesterday was another sunny, fresh, doesn't-get-better-than-this day. After the quiet, hidden gestation of winter, the world is being born again. It is clear and obvious to observe everywhere.

We went to Panera Bread for lunch and then to the library, and oh my, the magnolia, forsythia, peach, pear and apple, redbud, weeping cherry-- oh, all manner of trees and spring flowers are in full bloom. We drove and walked through storms of petals, as if we were bride and groom again. Born again.

Today the sky is gray-white, and this morning all is quiet, though tornadoes have stormed across the southern states with fatal power, and strong storms are forecast later for here, as well. Nature is neither kind nor compassionate in the sense of human understanding. The springtime world is as fierce as the winter world was.

Instead of striving to avoid the storm, I now strive to deeply notice every moment; I strive to notice as much as I can of what rises, exists for a moment, and passes away. Within any and every moment, I give profound thanks for family and friends who exist and travel, noticing, in this world with me.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"I am sitting here looking out at this bluebird day, after having walked through the rain-wet farm near my house this morning. The skunk cabbage skirled their lime green skirts on the dark forest floor, raindrops glittered on the furred leaves of mullein’s basal whorl, an ovenbird sang in the treetops. A red-tailed hawk perched majestic in an old oak at the edge of the woods, up near the top of hill, where the hawk’s eyes took in every movement of mouse and vole in the creek bottom below. Spring has exploded out of the dark earth in these recent days of rain, something wild just setting itself loose on the world whether the world wants it or not; the fact is that life craves its own completion and it just will out whether or not anyone or anything else notices," writes my friend Dana Knighten.

Such has been my experience of the day, as well, though I didn't get out until afternoon. After I'd received Dana's description, I, too, went out into the day and experienced the sky and air and earth as full of that energy of life craving life. I walked in the natural, humming quiet of sunny warmth in the meadow uphill and I gave thanks: thanks for all the natural world, even the thorns; thanks for family and friends to share the journey, lovely parts and hard.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


'Tis a drizzly, gray day, and I am singing. Fortunately for all, I am alone in the household as I lift my voice. Once upon a time (don't all tales begin that way?) I had a clear, tuneful voice. Now my throat is dry and my vocal cords do not respond the way my mind imagines they should, and so I sing and laugh as well. What could be better? Laughter, and singing.

And I'm imagining that all around in the universe the morning stars are still and always singing, too.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Table Papa Made

This morning I sat with coffee in the swivel chair in the window corner of the living room, and looked outside, and looked along the wall past a table to check the view out the still-newish window in the door. And then I really looked at the table.

That table, the piece of furniture that's been with me the longest of any, the very first piece of furniture in my very first apartment. I was still sleeping in a nest of blankets on the floor when I brought that table to my place. Plywood tabletop, rather rough-hewn oak stringers and legs, my father created it. On the weekend home when I got it, I stained and polyurethaned it.

Papa was retired from farming when he made that table, and was spending lots of time on various woodworking projects of his choosing, working mostly with oak, building benches and coffee tables of his own, particular, sturdy and very functional design. But I needed a kitchen table, one both big enough to squeeze four people around it if I wanted, and small enough so I wouldn't feel lost and lonely eating there alone. One that I could put into the trunk of my car (cars were bigger then) to carry along whenever I moved, for I was not nearly settled in my life.

Papa was not a talkative man, and I was his youngest child. Sometimes I wonder if he'd just seen in his life so much of struggle and drama and recognizing the hard lessons of how things really are, that he figured that whatever he said or didn't say to me made little or no difference, that life would happen to me just like life had happened to him. Anyway, we didn't communicate much, and when we tried we didn't do it well. He made the table that he made, not the table I'd imagined. I accepted it with quiet thanks, finished it, and took it with. It wasn't wonderful, to my mind, but it would be good enough for a while.

And then he suddenly died.

This morning I looked at that table again and asked myself, Why have you carted this thing with you, always? Why not just get rid of it, have a bit more beauty, perhaps, or empty space? And suddenly I knew in a conscious way what perhaps I've always known in an unconscious way. I realized this rather ugly piece of furniture, this wood shaped by my father's mind and hands, carries in its lines and fibers some of the essence of the gift of love my father wished to give me.

He had no gift of eloquence, no easy banter, no flow of words for me. But he was willing to spend time, thought, energy, all his accumulated best, to create what he imagined I wanted, a table that would suit me, that would please me immediately and also be sturdy enough to serve my needs well for years to come.

I have stumbled around, searching, wanting to feel in my memory some experienced reality of my father's love. Meanwhile I overlooked that love still present in my days, given in the homely piece of furniture crafted specifically for me. But I guess I knew, for I carried it along these past forty-plus years. When the time comes I believe I can now graciously surrender the thing-ness of it, for having welcomed into my heart at least some of the underlying spirit and meaning of it.

Meanwhile, that table is still so sturdy and serviceable that it will withstand any kind of wear.

Yesterday the early clouds dissipated and the day became warm and sunny. I collected two bouquets of daffodils. Usually I just let them fade on the stem, but this year I knew yesterday's sudden heat would likely finish some of them anyway, and there are many blossoms now, on plants collected and naturalized over decades, and I just wanted these blooms in my living space. I can smell them, their sweet, fresh scent, when I come from another part of the house. Today, after morning rain, comes sunshine again, and patches of blue, to be followed again later by more rain.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

"There are two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle." Albert Einstein

Every day spring moves forward, gray sky, drizzly rain and all. I can see the thin cloud of tightly-closed buds on the dogwood, the tiny fists of poplar leaf, the happy white and gold of daffodils, paperwhites, forsythia in bloom, and weeping willow. A pair of ducks are flying about and perching in our trees, though I haven't identified them yet. Also, a duck with a dark brown ruff on Deer Creek. Also the mares with their babies, and the two- and three-year-olds at play in the meadows. Also.... Humans are surely not the totality of life.

Saturday, April 9, 2011


Read this book!: Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein with a forward by Kurt Andersen. The book is copyrighted, 2011, by Public Radio International, published by HarperCollins. It is, primarily, a compilation of the highlights of fascinating interviews with successful, creative people, the gleanings of insight into their processes.

Burstein is the lead producer and Andersen is the host of the radio show Studio 360. Their tagline says Studio 360 is the place "where art and real life collide."

A few tidbits from the book:

'...[in] an essay called "The Amateur Spirit" by the great scholar and writer Daniel Boorstin. The main obstacle to progress is not ignorance, Boorstin wrote, but "pretensions to knowledge.... The amateur is not afraid to do something for the first time.... the rewards and refreshments of thought and the arts come from the courage to try something, all sorts of things, for the first time... An enamored amateur need not be a genius to stay out of the ruts he has never been trained in."
'Here was a supremely credentialed prince of the Establishment, the ultimate professional intellectual—Rhodes Scholar, Ph.D., professor at the University of Chicago and Cambridge University, museum director, Librarian of Congress—arguing in his seventies that while professionalism of the good kind (knowledge, competence, reliability) has its place, it is the curious excited, slightly reckless passion of the amateur that we need to nurture in our professional lives, especially if we aspire to creativity in the work we do.' (Foreword by Andersen, ix-x)

' " You don't want to do too many projects of a similar type," (Tibor Kalman) told me. "The first one, you fuck it up in an interesting way. The second one, you get it right. And then you're out of there." ' (Andersen, x)

'Danny Boyle.... "There's something about the innocence and joy when you don't quite know what you're doing." ' (Andersen, xi)

'Steve Jobs.... "The heaviness of being successful... was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life." ' (Andersen, xi)

"Engaging challenges often force us to create stronger work." (Burstein, 3)

For myself, I want to hold onto every bit of knowledge, competence and reliability I can muster, and I want to hold onto that excitement and interest of the beginner's mind, of doing a thing in a slightly different way, holding onto the joy of being interested in the twist, the odd detail, that presents anew a whole, wide world of possibilities.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Flare Up


I believe it is all
the support and light
and love coming my way
that allows me to feel
this illness as that
hand of blessing,
pressing me down
to stillness.

This is clearly,
for me, a time for
stillness. And a place
from which I, in turn, send out
to all those in my life whom I love—

and there are many—

all the light
and blessing wishes,
and affection, and wishes for wisdom
and right-pacing and insight
in this rushing day-to-day-ness.

~words by Carol Bindel, line breaks arranged by Dana Knighton~

I sent an email to Dana, and she returned to me a poem, printed out and included in the front of the book she brought. There is such a lifted-up feeling to being so noticed and valued by someone whom one respects and values in turn as deeply as I do Dana.

The title came later. Patients with my sorts of autoimmune problems are not usually spoken of as having "relapse," we have "flareups". And there is the other meaning of a flare up, the bright, lifting conflagration that burns away all before it. Both apply, and it is a burden that also brings a gift in the flame. Before we build something new, something old must often give way.

Flare Up can be akin to joy. It is a good thing for new things to Flare Up.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Good Advice

Early on in her book Eat, Pray, Love Liz Gilbert writes of the point in her life where she found herself, many nights, on the bathroom floor weeping, not knowing what step to take next or where to turn for wisdom. Finally in her desperation she began to tentatively pray, simply asking, "Oh, God, what shall I do?"

Unexpectedly, a quiet voice spoke into her anguish and exhaustion, saying, "Liz, go to bed."

Such a simple, direct, commonsensical thing. Any wise and nurturing mother might give such advice. A piece of profound wisdom. Advice that I, too, can take to heart.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thunderstorms rushed through our valley on howling winds, this morning, calming and rising again and again. Not the freight-train sound of a tornado, nor the gradual rise to sustained high pitch of a hurricane, just a lonely, commonly-known, strong-wind howl. I simply sat and watched tall trees sway and twigs and even branches go flying. Few beech leaves blew away this morning, but some dropped yesterday in the sunshine, warmth, new buds pushing them. Some newly opened daffodils have laid their heads right down on the earth in the face of today's storms.

Some people are weak, and some are very powerful, but who among us all can stop the wind?

Monday, April 4, 2011

Borderland: The Edge Effect

What shall I do in this generous
hour, this milky sky, bright
small fry, boisterous, impetuous,
momentous moment?

The beauteous swirl of joy
and pain where they meet but do not
mix their many colors, the spin
as a lifetime of fractal designs.

Measure it all as art? Realistic,
impressionistic, pointalistic, cubistic,
satirical, tragical, comical,
always and always original...

Where can we be but in this, our place?
When can we be but in this, our moment?
Who can we be but our very own selves?
And the What, Why and the How of it all? .

In her book The Alchemy of Illness, Kat Duff writes, "Not only is it better for the sick to be left alone at times; it is also better for the well to leave them at times. Healthy people can be contaminated by the gloom and depression of the ailing if they come too close or have too much sympathy; it is commonly called burnout in the helping professions. If that were to happen too often, as Virginia Woolf surmised, "buildings would cease to rise; roads would peter out into grassy tracks; there would be an end of music and of paintings"; for culture is created and maintained by those with the energy, enthusiasm, and idealism of health. The well need to be well for the world to continue, just as the sick need to be sick so the world can be regenerated. Each has a necessary job to perform." (83)

I am reading Duff, and simultaneously reading Michio Kushi's book The Dõ-In Way: Gentle Exercises to Liberate the Body, Mind, and Spirit. (Square One Publishers, 2007.) (Also note that the o in Dõ-In should have a bar over it rather than a tilda, and my Word program offers no such special character. Huh.) Besides the descriptive title, a cover blurb adds, "A Program of Traditional Eastern Exercise to Maximize your Health, Mental Clarity, and Spiritual Development." I am reading Kushi because I seek a balanced, liberated life, and I know that exercise is one of the essential elements. I seek the highest level of health I may attain.

And it's interesting, let me be sure to say; I am learning and interested "Keep interested in your own career, however humble; it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time," as Desiderata advises. I believe my present career path is "Attention payer," or maybe "Attentioner," or "Noticer."

Many people write about the edge effect, how the liveliest places are those where two different environments intersect: forest and meadow; land and water be it pond, stream or sea. In this borderland between health and illness, I find myself at one of those lively intersections where much is happening, and I am given the vibrant participant-observer's role for now. Quiet, but happily I am not bored.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Oh-boy-oh-boy-oh-boy!!! Warm today, warmer tomorrow, and sunny. There are planties blooming here and there, and fat buds, and by Tuesday I'll bet the beech trees will have released their old leaves.

(Is it disrespectful to call this year's fresh growth planties? They are all growing from old stock, after all, bloodroot in the woods and in my rock garden, the daffodils that have been refurbishing themselves for years, the primrose that is well established. The glory of spring is an ancient glory. How dare I look around and see babies? But I do, and come to think of it, the plants don't care a bit what I say, they care what I do, and "care" is even, surely, a too-conscious word.)

The forester who visits us every few years to inspect our property as part of the woodland protection project we signed on for says that a hundred years from now beech trees will be predominant in this woods. They surely do seem to be the trees most sturdy at growing in the shadow of the poplar, hickory, and various oaks that now stand so tall on this land. So there are lots of young beech.

Beech trees hang onto their leaves through winter. Raggedy, bleached to beige, drooping under any kind of moisture, still they stay until spring growth pushes them off. They hang on, hang on, hang on. And every year I am surprised to find that one day they are suddenly gone. This year I am trying to notice them in particular. The youngest trees, the lowest growing branches, the most shade seems to encourage the longest hanging on. I'll bet, though, that in the sun and warm air forecast for the next two days those beech leaves from last year will finally drop.

I could end here. But there is an old hymn singing in me this morning, one that was a favorite of Mother's and I, too, sang it so many times in the family group, with the church group, it is mine, now, too, even the words of the first verse. I looked up the second and third verses. Here it is:

Whispering Hope, words and music by Alice Hawthorne

Soft as the voice of an Angel,
Breathing a lesson unheard,
Hope with a gentle persuasion
Whispers her comforting word:
Wait till the darkness is over,
Wait till the tempest is done,
Hope for the sunshine tomorrow,
After the shower is gone.

Whispering hope,
Oh, how welcome thy voice,
Making my heart
In it's sorrow rejoice.

If, in the dusk of the twilight,
Dim be the region afar,
Will not the deepening darkness
Brighten the glimmering star?
Then when the night is upon us
Why should the heart sink away?
When the dark midnight is over,
Watch for the breaking of day.


Hope, as an anchor so steadfast,
Rends the dark veil for the soul,
Whither the Master has entered,
Robbing the grave of its goal.
Come then, O come, glad fruition,
Come to my sad weary heart;
Come, O Thou blest hope of glory,
Never, O never depart.


If I do nothing else today, I hope I will walk about outside for a bit.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The forecast says rain, and now the sky, also, says perhaps so. Yet earlier this morning I saw the sky full of pink light, and the clear, rosy brilliance of sun as the earth turned and gave the view of it over the lip of the hill. Hope. Affirmation of all things simultaneously present, the sun continuing to shine even if there are clouds, even if the place where I stand on the face of the earth is turned away from its shine, even if where I am it is night.

I live with Sjogren's syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue. There is no cure. That's just how it is. I've been down the Euro-American traditional resistance-to-illness road, and that led me to total collapse. From there I followed the allopathic path of Western medicine through lots of complicated, sophisticated testing and drug treatments. I dragged along, largely disabled. Then I began to explore other options. I found a medical doctor who also practices naturopathic medicine, who helped wean me off most of the pills. I simultaneously had acupuncture and massage and "energy" therapies. I explored yoga and tai chi and chi gong. I became ever more aware and intentional about learning about other cultures' spirituality, about practicing the kind of prayer that does not differ from meditation. I practice, practice, practice.

I learned to pay attention to my own body, to the flow of my very own, unique energy, to draw energy from the earth and air, wrap it around me like a warm blanket that comforts and heals me. I learned some ways that I can also, often, claim earth energy so that it can be drawn up to become firm and sturdy, a framework that supports me as I rise and go about in the world.

I learned my body lessons so that now I am often mistaken by onlookers for one who lives with blooming good health. Yet this chronic illness continues to exist as a fact of how I also am. And this recent respiratory infection has brought me back again to a necessary deep stillness.

This Thursday just passed, when I was going to miss yet another meeting of my journaling group, my dear friend and journaling group leader Dana Knighton said, "I have found something you must have now, I'll bring it by." (Such perfect gifts friends find for me, again and again, blessing me, blessing my life.)

She brought me a book by Kat Duff, The Alchemy of Illness (Bell Tower, 1993). Duff writes, "When I am bone tired, I cannot pretend to be happy or gracious, nor can I pass as perfectly competent; I am what I am and that is all there is. As a result, the ongoing exhaustion of my illness has slowly undermined my "good girl" persona and perfectionist habits I had learned as a child to steer my way through the land mines of adult psyches, and it has cultivated in me a self-attentiveness I now need in order to survive. I could not say I have the self-possession of a master, as my dream promised, but I do have the ability to pause and check in with myself while collapsed, and the license to say no to the things I do not want to do and yes to that which I must do for the survival of my body and soul." (32-33)

Yes. For myself, I find I often need to say no to many things I would like to do, to absent myself from things I would love to be part of, to limit my engagement with the larger world in order to not lose my ability to tend my close, immediate, basic survival needs. My body makes clear again and again that it carries my life in the most elemental way, and I must pay attention.

Your body, too, carries your life, and all your hours of experiences are included there. What do you notice, when you pay attention? How are you learning to pay attention?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Rain yesterday, rain today. Rain tomorrow?

Around us, west and north, there's been snow. Does Mother play April Fool's?

It's spring and the earth knows, it's steady unfolding, the bloodroot blooming in the sheltered spaces, and daffodils and windflowers. Even in the drizzle the horses graze quietly and occasionally decide to run, apparently for the sheer joy of running, manes and tails streaming out.